At the Ta­ble with an Amer­i­can Orig­i­nal

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight / Biography -

Sara B. Franklin (Edi­tor), The Univer­sity of North Carolina Press (APRIL), Hard­cover $27.99 (272pp), 978-1-4696-3855-3

Edna Lewis earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a ground­break­ing chef, both for ex­celling as an African Amer­i­can woman in the New York restau­rant scene and for her work pop­u­lar­iz­ing South­ern cook­ing through cook­books like The Taste of Coun­try Cook­ing. Lewis and her im­pact are cel­e­brated in Edna Lewis: At the Ta­ble with an Amer­i­can Orig­i­nal, which will ap­peal to her fans and pro­vide an in­tro­duc­tion to her work for those who are un­fa­mil­iar.

The book, edited by Sara B. Franklin, gath­ers con­tri­bu­tions from var­i­ous well-known cook­ing per­son­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing chef Alice Wa­ters, cook­book au­thor Deb­o­rah Madi­son, and Wash­ing­ton Post din­ing edi­tor Joe Yo­nan. Some talk about per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with Lewis, eat­ing at her restau­rant, or us­ing her cook­books. Sev­eral in­clude Lewis-in­spired recipes for dishes such as black­berry cob­bler, benne seed wafers, or Dun­geness crab chow­der with fen­nel, Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes, and chives.

Other es­says fo­cus on larger themes. Michael Twitty con­sid­ers the his­tory of Free­town, Vir­ginia, a town founded by for­mer slaves, where Lewis grew up; he links the foods she cham­pi­oned to the area’s cul­ture. Me­gan Elias dis­cusses Lewis as an “African-amer­i­can cul­tural his­to­rian,” show­ing how she strove to break stereo­types about South­ern and African Amer­i­can cook­ing and cul­ture, and how she gained culi­nary cred­i­bil­ity for foods pre­vi­ously dis­missed in gourmet cir­cles. An es­say near the front of the book by Jane Lear thank­fully quotes Lewis ex­ten­sively, en­sur­ing that her own voice comes through. Lewis’s sis­ter and niece also con­trib­ute to the col­lec­tion, adding more per­sonal sto­ries along­side the crit­i­cal anal­y­sis and fan­dom.

By com­bin­ing so many per­spec­tives about her life and her cui­sine, Edna Lewis: At the Ta­ble with an Amer­i­can Orig­i­nal dou­bles as an ef­fec­tive bi­og­ra­phy and a trib­ute from her range of acolytes.

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